Sunday, September 28, 2008

1st Debate: Evasion of the Image Changers


I watched the debate as I'm sure 30 or 40 million other Americans did.. then I watched it again.. then I read the transcript and I read it again. My only question was, is this 2008?

Here's why. Both Senator John McCain and Barack Obama were playing a very old game or as both campaigns (but particularly Obama's) would say "old politics."

Overall Impression of each Candidate:

Obama: Came out strong, showed economy was his issue, faltered on national security, basically let McCain win on a few foreign policy questions because he didn't have any substance to go off of

McCain: Sounded wobbly and ambiguous on the economy, strong suite came out nicely - international relations, used a few underhanded scare tactics but not too overtly, tried to show off his earmark reform work

Both candidates were playing an old game of trying to gain big leverage by doing a face-to-face image change. What do I mean? Did you notice how many times they both accused the other of saying one thing and doing another? Both candidates were trying desperately to go for the knockout punch: the image change. They pointed out what their opponents image is now.. and what they believe it should be. That kind of tactic, if successful, can lead to BIG jumps/drops in the polls especially amongst independents. There is a problem with that though...

WE KNOW THE CANDIDATES! WE HAVE HEARD/SEEN THEM EVERYDAY FOR a touch under TWO YEARS! That game worked back when the primary seasons were shorter, the budgets were smaller, and the debates might be the first time undecided voters got serious about choosing who to vote for. In recent years though, with a President or Vice President running in every election since the turn of the century, there has been a strong connection between the "history" of a candidate's image and their election image.

This election though we have two candidates who are both running against the sitting President and have told us time and time again that we should focus on the issues. Guess what? Most Independents already do. So to stand at a podium and try to change the other candidates image is a waste of time.. instead contrast yourself against their positions and tell us why you are any better than the other guy.

It boils down to this: McCain has most to lose by being linked to Bush and he has avoided him and his positions like the dickens, but McCain has no real way of linking Obama to failed policies in the same way because there just isn't that long of a record! McCain should link Bush to Obama through the (in)experience attack route. Wait... that would also be a bigger slam of his own VP though (who by the way is totally in over her head, has anyone seen the Couric interview?!).

For the next debate I think seeing a decisive defeat is very possible for Obama. Town hall meetings are the places you find McCain the most comfortable. He has the knowledge and has the ability to start out slow on any response then ramp up into the rhetoric and get a crowd behind him with very little effort Obama on the other hand hasn't held too many Town halls and he tends to sort of stutter when he is thinking through his response. Hey, I'm glad he is thinking but stuttering makes him sound weak and wobbly.

The only upside for the Obama campaign until the last debate should be Biden scoring a clear victory in the Vice Presidential debate. Biden does face a few problems though, he doesn't want to seem too knowledgeable (or he risks overshadowing Obama), or too mean (gives Palin the sympathy vote), or talk too much (because he is a gaffe-machine). Palin on the other hand is trying too hard to seem like an expert on foreign policy but it backfiring because she is trying to be someone she isn't. Her key to success will be making a connection to the audience and staying within her own league and only going out to bat on information she feels comfortable with. (Also, not repeating the moderator and her opponent's first names a million times would help.. Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, etc...) Other bad news for Palin is that she has has more difficulties when dealing with women questioners/interviewers and it just so happens that Gwen Ifill, senior correspondent for the News Hour, is the moderator for her debate. She not only focus her prep on dealing with the political veteran across the table but also with being able to handle Ms. Ifill when questions start flying about Woman's issues. Palin would be best prepared should she take lesson from McCain's performance and change her tune to one that will seem sympathetic considering she is not a major player in foreign policy and her party is feeling the heat due to the financial crisis. For the first time she will not be dealing with either a one-on-one interview or a sympathetic crowd, so she has to be able to play to a neutral audience and try to win them over. Should be fun to watch anyhow!

Feel free to leave comments!

1 comment:

Mike Buffington said...

Congrats on your win in the BoTB.

I am very eager to see the VP debate and look forward to your commentary.